Talkin’ trash

Jeff vonKaenel

Last week I spent three days talking trash with around 600 members of two Sacramento-based groups—the California Resource Recovery Association and the California Product Stewardship Council—at their joint convention in San Diego.

Believe me, there was a lot of talk about trash, composting, bottle-and-can recycling. The big topic was new state legislation to eliminate all food waste and green organic matter from our landfills.

The people doing the talking were a very likable group. Part science nerds, part blue collar and all aware that while they may not get much recognition, if they stopped working, everyone would notice very quickly. We would be in a lot of you-know-what without our resource recovery folks. I definitely gained a greater respect for what they do. I doubt that I would have had that same feeling at a hedge fund confab.

I was attending the convention because our publication division was receiving special recognition from the California Product Stewardship Council for the many publications we have produced for them about county pharmaceutical takeback programs.

If you wanted to better understand how California is going its own way on environmental issues, you would learn a lot at this convention. There were experts from throughout the state discussing how to increase California’s recycling from 50 percent to 75 percent of the waste stream, how to add recycling deposits to wine and liquor bottle purchases, and how to keep methane-emitting food and green waste out of landfills.

Parts of Canada and Europe already do not allow food and green waste in landfills. However, this will be a giant new undertaking for California. According to the government agency CalRecycle, we will need to build an estimated 100 new composting facilities and green-waste digesters, costing around $3 billion. This project will create massive amounts of composted material that could replace much of our oil-based fertilizer and even diesel fuel. This program could also create around 100,000 new jobs by 2020, almost doubling the number of jobs in the California recycling industry. In contrast, the U.S. coal industry only employs a total of 76,572 people, as of the most recent count (2014).

The numerous convention workshops had a ton of information, but they also had something else that is missing from much of the current national dialogue: hope and vision of a new human role on the planet.

The many nonhuman species on Mother Earth do not have landfills. Everything is always being used and reused. The animals, birds, insects and bacteria do not have non-recyclable waste. Their poop and even their carcasses become fertilizer for the plants or another creature’s breakfast. The life and death cycle is wonderfully created and recreated endlessly and has been going on for hundreds of millions of years.

Homo sapiens alone create gigantic holes in the ground where we dump stuff that can never be used again. We alone have products like plastic, which do not break down, and can never be used again. Drop some food waste and a plastic bottle in a forest and watch what happens. We alone are raising the global temperature, and we alone have broken the natural cycle of Mother Earth.

In San Diego, I spent some time with people who are part of the solution. They were talking trash, but they were thinking about the planet.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.